ERASMUS+ GRANT REDUCTION SCANDAL: YET ANOTHER “MISCALCULATION” VICTIMIZES TURKISH YOUTH

In late September 2021, numerous universities, one of which is Istanbul Technical University, sent out emails that led hundreds of Erasmus+ exchange program students into a rightfully expressed uproar (TechnoPixel, 2021). The email announced that the schools would not provide the promised grants throughout the predetermined Erasmus+ program, which usually lasts between 4-8 months. Istanbul Technical University stated that students in the exchange program would only be provided with grants for 2,5 months. In other words, a considerable amount of Turkish students are ripped off of their promised pocket money, and they are expected to figure out this financial crisis on their own while they are in cities that are completely unfamiliar to them. In this paper, the missteps and the consequences of this scandalous Erasmus+ grant reduction crisis will be addressed.

   Erasmus+ is an academic and cultural exchange program between European countries (Duvar English, 2021). The program was established in 1987; however, Turkey’s Erasmus+ presence only dates back to 2014. Normally, the students should be provided 300 to 500 euros per month, depending on the city in which they went. For this year’s grants, an estimated amount of 450 euros per month was promised. Additionally, none of the participant countries are required to provide grants for their students themselves; the European Union is responsible for the finances. Thusly, neither the universities nor the Turkish National Agency is taking responsibility for this crisis. Then, who should be held accountable? As previously mentioned, the EU designates the funds. However, as the Turkish EU delegates stated, it is the Turkish National Agency’s responsibility to manage and distribute the grants. More importantly, the European Union’s official Erasmus+ site disclosed that the overall budget for the program between 2021-2027 is 26.2 billion euros, which should normally be more than enough to cover all the expenses of the students in the program (TechnoPixel, 2021). Although this is the case, why did numerous universities cut down the grants and why did this financial vacuum occur is unknown. Moreover, universities such as Istanbul Technical University and Marmara University publish statements that diverge the issue back to the Turkish National Agency. According to the statement by the Agency on the recent crisis, the agreement and the signing process of the 2021-2027 Erasmus+ Program are still ongoing between the Turkish Republic and the European Commission. The Agency also claims that the current reductions and cut-offs are “surely” temporary and advises the worried students and their families can rest assured. In addition, the statement also includes an unclear pledge that the grants may be raised once the participation period is officially over. It is undeniably clear that the Agency is somewhat trying to reassure students and families while trying to royally save their face as an institution. However, they are not quite successful in doing so since the stakes are incredibly high for hundreds of people who are victims of this crisis.

   All of the students who apply for the Erasmus+ program go through a selection process that includes academic examinations and language proficiency tests. On top of that, they must meet certain academic requirements, such as having a satisfactory cGPA. Nearly all of these eligible students depend on grants in order to survive abroad (Bozkürk, 2021). It is only natural for these students to seek additional funding other than their own savings and their families’ budgets, given the difficult economic circumstances in Turkey. In addition, the aftermath of the 2019 covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation of many, crushing the already non-existent financial stability. With the ever-growing value gap between the Turkish Lira and Euro, it is getting harder and harder to afford even the flight for the program, let alone basic expenses such as accommodation, food, and health insurance. Furthermore, a number of students report that they have already signed their rent leases, and without the promised 450 euros per month for 4-8 months, they are nowhere near able to afford to pay their rents. This situation leaves them with no chance but to find a job to survive while studying on their academics since they have to maintain their standings. However, with just a student visa, working is, naturally, illegal (Karar Haber, 2021). One desperate student even seriously considers working in a restaurant unlicensed because there are no other options to survive (Bozkürk, 2021). In addition, most of the students put their class registrations and dorm enrollments on hold in order to cut back their expenses back home (Duvar English, 2021). However, they are also unable to sustain their stay abroad. In other words, they are deprived of their education and accommodation both abroad and in their country. The inefficient and inadequate online education enacted throughout the pandemic already resulted in a “lost year” for the students. Now the Erasmus+ grant crisis poses the threat of another “wasted semester” in terms of education. Hundreds of victims are demanding their rights through social media, asking for refunds, and urging the officials to take responsibility. However, the “social state” has yet to answer their pleas with effective and responsible actions. Nevertheless, none of the official institutions are taking responsibility for this crisis, which entails the question of “who benefited from this financial vacuum?” Or were there enough fundings reserved for Turkey to begin with? If not, why did the administrators let these students enter the program? Although millions of questions can be generated, all will be left unanswered until the right people start taking the right actions and holding people accountable.

   In conclusion, yet another student-victimizing crisis occurred in Turkey, and as always, officials are pointing fingers at each other, claiming that it was not their fault, and trying to put up a “selfless and reassuring” self-serving act that does not help the victims at all. Hundreds of people have been in a constant state of worry and anxiousness for the last couple of days because of this outrageous reduction. People were, literally, told that they were on their own from now on, with no prospects of a stable income. It appears that this exchange program that essentially aims to enhance the academic life of students by enabling them to interact with different cultures and forms of education has been immensely politicized in the Turkish context. In the crossfire, hundreds of students and their families are regarded as mere casualties, and their rightful demands are deliberately unacknowledged so far.

REFERENCES

Bozkürk, B. (2021). Erasmus öğrencilerine hibe kesintisi: “Dönercide kaçak çalışacağım”. 

                DW. Retrieved from: https://p.dw.com/p/40zY1

Duvar English. (2021). Turkish ministry cuts Erasmus funding, strands students in Europe.

           Retrieved from: https://www.duvarenglish.com/turkish-ministry-cuts-erasmus-funding-strands-students-in-europe-news-58988

Karar Haber. (2021). Erasmus hibelerinde inanılmaz kesinti: Öğrenciler zor durumda kaldı.

          Retrieved from: https://www.karar.com/guncel-haberler/erasmus-hibelerinde-inanilmaz-kesinti-ogrenciler-zor-durumda-kaldi-1633737

TechnoPixel. (2021). Deduction in the Grant Given to Erasmus Students in Turkey.             Retrieved from: https://www.technopixel.org/deduction-in-the-grant-given-to-erasmus-students-in-turkey/